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My secret to success is ignorance. Seriously.

Gurus are a dime a dozen these days, and they all want to tell you the secret to success, so I’ll share with you my version, and it’s all about being ignorant. Enjoy.

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The real secret to success

We’ve all picked up a self help book or blog post at some point to help us improve our chances of success, and we’ve all read garbage from gurus that tell you to picture your happy place or whatever. It’s mostly junk and really none of it has ever helped me personally to succeed.

The gurus have inspired me, and I have picked up tips and tricks along the way, but if you asked me what has led to my personal successes in life, there is not one speech I’ve heard or book I’ve read (other than religious texts) that have made enough of an impact on me that I could even point to it.

My own successes have been born from ignorance. Let me explain.

I’m not an ignorant person, no, I read the equivalent of a Harry Potter novel a day – we’re talking Order of the Phoenix. I have multiple college degrees, I write content every single day (even weekends), and I speak publicly often (typically to debunk gurus). I love learning, and learning loves me, so when I say I’m ignorant, I don’t mean about the world around me.

Okay, so what do you mean by ignorant?

The secret to success is ignorance. Seriously. My first memory of being successful was in second grade when I won a class-wide hula hooping contest. I remember starting the contest believing that I was going to win. Not because my hips don’t lie or because I’m superior, and not because a guru told me the secret of finding my happy place, but because I was ignorant enough to believe that I would win. And I did.

The high from winning was so palpable, it was like I had been given an IV drip of highly processed sugar. I didn’t believe I deserved to win, I just hadn’t considered any other option. Days later at school, we had a jump rope contest. I won. I was the smallest kid in the class, the poorest, I had no teeth, and I won.

In high school, I took a shot at debate (and yearbook, and Model UN, and the Federal Reserve competition, and UIL journalism, and UIL creative writing, and student government, and well, you get the picture). The very first debate out of the gate, my partner and I won, and I honestly hadn’t expected anything less. I was truly ignorant to the fact that I could lose, I just hadn’t even considered it because I was so focused.

But isn’t success an attitude?

No, friend, success isn’t an attitude, and it’s not something you can buy from a shelf, it’s either part of your brain function or your personality – it’s being completely unaware that you could lose.

Have I ever lost? Sure. I’m somewhat of a risk taker, so I lose enough to know how to win. But I think back to that second grade hula hooping contest, before any guru told me to look into my inner self or revealed any “secrets” to me, and I simply busted my ass to win, without considering losing.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Tinu

    May 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Some aspects of success are like that for me, but they are far more hard won. It goes back to the worldview of normal I had growing up. A good deal of my *natural* success – areas where I have a belief in my own existing talent – come from just never thought of living in a world where I wouldn’t or couldn’t win.

    I was very lucky to be raised by a man who never let the world tell me that there were things that girls couldn’t do until it was too late to change my mind, and a woman with a steel spine to show me what truly experiencing equal treatment with men could be like, responsibility and all.

    But the trick is, those were not and are not the areas I need help in. There are areas where I doubt myself, where I don’t believe that I will be naturally successful in, most that I didn’t know existed when I was a kid. And those are the areas where some of the so-called gurus lead me to the knowledge that pre-dates them or yields them their expertise that I glean wisdom from. Most of the times, it was as you said – one nuggets or new perspective here and there. But there are also times where a particular personality put the right words to be the right way, and something I probably already know would click. And that clicking would change the way I live my life.

    Bravo on opening us up to your process. Ignorance as a way to wisdom is a path rarely spoken of in mixed company.

  2. Bob LeDrew

    May 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    It’s interesting for me to try to put myself in that mindspace. But I can’t. I’ve never felt that way, and I can’t imagine it very well. It would be interesting to hear from someone whose success has come despite being painfully aware of the potential for failure. Thanks for opening up.

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Opinion Editorials

Shady salary transparency is running rampant: What to look out for

(EDITORIAL) Employees currently have the upper hand in the market. Employers, you must be upfront about salary and approach it correctly.

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Man holding money in the dark representing false salary transparency.

It’s the wild wild west out there when it comes to job applications. Job descriptions often misrepresent remote work opportunities. Applicants have a difficult time telling job scams from real jobs. Job applicants get ghosted by employers, even after a long application process. Following the Great Resignation, many employers are scrambling for workers. Employees have the upper hand in the hiring process, and they’re no longer settling for interviews with employers that aren’t transparent, especially about salary.

Don’t be this employer

User ninetytwoturtles shared a post on Reddit in r/recruitinghell in which the employer listed the salary as $0 to $1,000,000 per year. Go through many listings on most job boards and you’ll find the same kind of tactics – no salary listed or too large of a wide range. In some places, it’s required to post salary information. In 2021, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect in Colorado. Colorado employers must list salary and benefits to give new hires more information about fair pay. Listing a broad salary range skirts the issue. It’s unfair to applicants, and in today’s climate, employers are going to get called out on it. Your brand will take a hit.

Don’t obfuscate wage information

Every employer likes to think that their employees work because they enjoy the job, but let’s face it, money is the biggest motivator. During the interview process, many a job has been lost over salary negotiations. Bringing up wages too early in the application process can be bad for a job applicant. On the other hand, avoiding the question can lead to disappointment when a job is offered, not to mention wasted time. In the past, employers held all the cards. Currently, it’s a worker’s market. If you want productive, quality workers, your business needs to be honest and transparent about wages.

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Opinion Editorials

3 reasons to motivate yourself to declutter your workspace (and mind)

(EDITORIAL) Making time to declutter saves time and money – all while reducing stress. Need a little boost to start? We all need motivation sometimes.

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Clean work desk representing the need to declutter.

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few years. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to identify and minimize ‘invisible’ work in your organization

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Women in a meeting around table, inclusion as a part of stopping gender discrimination representing invisible work.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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